Lough Boora Discovery Park

I don’t know why I haven’t gone to Lough Boora Park before. There is no excuse other than pure laziness.  This week my good friends Marcy and Bob came all the way from Hawaii to see me so I obviously wanted to show them something Irish, the bog. The signage for the Park is excellent and there is no way you can go wrong. That is a pure compliment from the woman who regularly gets lost on the way to new places.  The facilities are brand new and really well kept. There is a €2 charge for the car park and after that, it’s free!!!!! This makes it a perfect day out for everybody.

We chose to walk but you can also rent a bike or bring your own.mas  We initially intended to do the 3.3 km walk around the sculpture park but ended up walking for about 2 hours. The park is a photographer’s haven so don’t forget the camera.  There are several options for your visit depending on your time availability and fitness level.  The shortest route is the sculpture route at just over 3km.  This is followed by the farmland route which is 6km.  The mesolithic route is 9.3km.  The last two are quite long, Finnamore Lake at 11.7km and finally Turraun Route at 15.8km.  These give you plenty of choice depending on your interest.

Here are some photos I took along the way;

 

Overall, I had a great day and I’ll definitely be back with my bike, perhaps in the autumn when the leaves have changed.  The only bad thing about the visit was the amount of litter that we encountered on our walk.  For such a beautiful area, it was disappointing to see the litter.   You can find out everything about Lough Boora on their website, http://www.loughboora.com/wp-content/themes/boora/tablet/index.php

 

 

 

 

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My visit to Birr Castle Demesne.

It was only as I was walking out the gate that I became aware of time again. I was so engrossed in my walk around Birr Castle that time had simply escaped my attention. In the centre of Birr town in Co. Offaly, this attraction has lots to offer whether you’re on your own, with friends or with your entire family.

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How to get there? 

Birr Castle can be found in the town of Birr, Co. Offaly.  The exact location is here, https://www.google.ie/maps/@53.0967043,-7.9143201,17z

It is well signposted so once you arrive, you shouldn’t have any problem finding it.

Parking and cost of entry.

The scourge of every Irish tourist attraction is paid parking. There is no castle parking available so you must use the paid car park across the street. One hour is 50 cent.

Entry prices* are as follows:

Adult:9 euro

Student: 7.50

Family ( 2 adults and 2 children) 25 euro

*Prices were correct at time of publish, September 2015.

What can I see/do?

There are many things to do and you should give yourself a lot of time to fully visit the area.

There are 3 walks available, the longest taking at least 40 minutes to complete. During the walks you can take in beautiful gardens, waterfalls, lakes wells and bridges.

The science centre contains lots of astronomical equipment and information.

The great telescope, which was once the largest in the world is a must see.

For children, the tree house adventure area will provide plenty of entertainment. This has Ireland’s largest tree house and has a bouncy pillow available in August and September.

I myself spent at least 2 hours here exploring the area, taking in the wildlife and taking photographs. It is a photographers dream and you could easily pass an entire day getting photos.

My visit.

Although I only live a few kilometres away, I had never been to the castle before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The courtyard is really well kept as is the shop and visitor centre. The lady at the desk was happy and informative and explained the map before sending me on my way.

From there, I made my own way around the science centre which was quite interesting. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t read English because all the information is just in one language. However, it’s very visual so it would be of interest to everyone. You can learn all about the astronomical instruments and events.

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The day was picking up so my main interest was to explore the grounds. Since I had a lot of time, I took off on the river walk, which according to the map takes approximately 40 minutes to complete.

The estate is quite large and that becomes apparent immediately. There are tonnes of major walkways and minor walkways to explore, each offering something different. To walk around is quite refreshing and peaceful and I found myself regretful that I didn’t bring a picnic and a flask of tea!

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The suspension bridge dates back to around 1810 and it was the first of its kind in Ireland. According to the visitor guide, this is the oldest iron suspension bridge in Ireland and was built in original Birr workshops.

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If I have one pet peeve however, it’s litter and unfortunately there was too much litter around to go unnoticed. While most of the major walkways were litter free, the minor walks had quite a bit of litter as did the river. To me, litter is the height of laziness and when visitors are paying to walk around the estate, litter is not something that they should see. While I’m on this topic, I found some of the green keeping to be a little under loved in places. I can imagine that to keep an estate of this size in order takes a lot of work but attention to detail is essential.

As I waited to cross the little bridge at the fern waterfall, it was the squirrel and other wildlife that had me looking up into the trees. Again, as I approached the great telescope, a flock of ducks distracted me and they are obviously big characters who are used to having their photo taken.

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I love how the ducks were all walking in a line back to the river. You can imagine the leader just saying “Alright lads! Follow me! ”

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Eventually, I made it to the Great Telescope. For over 70 years, this was the largest telescope in the world. Constructed by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1840, it is now being reconstructed by the O.P.W.

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The box hedges in Birr castle are over 300 years old and seemingly the tallest in the world. The formal gardens are wonderful and make for some great photos.

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The variety of visitors there was apparent as I continued on my walk. There were some locals just out walking dogs, tourists there just for the nature and botany and then others who had their family and were making good use of the treehouse and bouncy pillow.

As mentioned earlier, the treehouse is Ireland’s largest treehouse and it really is quite impressive. The kids were enjoying it and the bouncy pillow immensely.

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Is it value for money?

After visiting the area, I asked myself this same question. Although, I don’t consider 7.50 a lot of money, I began to wonder why I had to pay it in the first place. I didn’t actually use a service of any kind as I didn’t get a guided tour or anything similar.Apart from the lady and gentleman working at the ticket desk, I didn’t meet any other workers. I can see the need to charge for use of the treehouse and bouncy pillow but walking outdoors, through nature should be free. Just a thought I had along the way.

You can find out more about this attraction by visiting their website http://www.birrcastle.com/

*All photos are my own.

*If any information is incorrect, please inform me and I’ll correct it.

The Black Bull Threshing festival 2015

Although this festival has been happening for about 14 years, I’ve never gone to it! Another case of shame on me because it’s just a short drive from my house. This year, I wasn’t going to miss it so last Sunday I headed off praying that I would remember how to drive properly all the way to the Black Bull (the name of the area). This is an annual fundraising festival and in my mind, I would show up, pull my car into the side of the road and go into the festival area. Instead, I was stopped by stewards in high vis jackets and the whole thing suddenly started to feel like the ploughing championships! In the most Irish way possible, I drove my little Toyota Yaris across a field and parked it among the horse boxes and sheep trailers.

I didn’t really know what to expect from the festival but whatever it was got blown out of the water as I walked around. There was everything from sheaf throwing to mouse racing to dog shows. My favourite part was the mouse race. Great entertainment and you only need one poor mouse to volunteer as tribute!

I took the usual 1000000057373626272 pictures during the day but I have narrowed it down to just a few that I loved!

There were loads of vintage tractors…..

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There were a few animals also. When I visited the ducks, there was a little girl telling them not to be afraid with that look in her eye that said she was going to pick one up and take it home!

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Of course there was threshing and by the looks of it, this guy was flat out…..

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This is a picture of the sheaf throwing. Such a simple concept and so entertaining!

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The sheep shearing demonstration was amazeballs. To be able to shear sheep 40 years after winning an International contest is an achievement. (That man is not actually Jackie Dooley but you get the drift)

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The vintage tractors attracted the young children and these two look like they’ll have to be PULLED off these tractors!

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I don’t know what these lads were looking at but whatever it was looks interesting.

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There was a lot of sitting around done at the festival…….

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Am I the only one that has never seen a horse getting its shoes on? Well I saw it on Sunday and I couldn’t take my eyes off the man doing it.

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My favourite picture of the day though is this one. Horse shoe throwing was one of the competitions on the day and I spent a while watching the young lads trying it. There was one chap, a little younger than the rest who looked like he really wanted a go but just watched the older lads doing it. After a while, the man in charge of the competition saw him and asked if he wanted to try it. He was so happy and literally jumped forward trying to pay the 2 euro entry fee. The older man waved it away and told him that this was just a “practice” so he didn’t need to pay. He then took the young lad and showed him how to throw and the best techniques and so on. He let him stand closer the pole and gave him all the shoes and repeated tries. It was the nicest moment I’ve seen since I came home.

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If anyone knows any of the people in these photos, please let me know and I’ll send them a copy of the photo.

Barack Obama Plaza- Capitalizing on an association.

When I heard the words “Barack Obama Plaza”, images of photo zones, interactive history of his ancestry and commemorative photos came to mind.  Instead, when I visited for the first time today, I arrived at a rest stop.

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The ground floor is full of different eating venues, from Supermacs to Tim Hortons. All very well if you need a rest on the road to Limerick. It’s very conveniently located next to the motorway. The second floor is a “visitor centre” and by visitor centre they mean one room that was clearly put there as an after thought to justify calling it Barack Obama Plaza.

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wpid-20150818_161134.jpgAlthough the ground floor was full of people eating, the visitor centre was empty and I had it to myself. It took me about 5 minutes to walk around and read the posters.There are no photo zones and it’s all a bit bland.  I went back to my car and off to the actual village of Moneygall.

My main problem with the Plaza is that Barack Obama had nothing to do with it. He has never visited it, didn’t open it, nothing. I understand that business is business but here is a classic example of the exploitation of an association.

I took the 3 minute drive into the village of Moneygall.

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Moneygall village is a  beautifully kept village and the people obviously very proud of their association with President Obama. All along the street you can see the Irish and American flags.  Near the end of the village is the ancestral home of President Obama. I was disappointed to find that the house is currently closed as is the Obama cafe next door. Instead of having an eye sore of a rest stop pretending to be an Obama visitor centre, wouldn’t it be lovely to visit the house and have all the need to know information inside? I believe this won’t be happening due to financial restrictions. During my visit, the village was eerily quiet with very few people to be seen. Visitors are clearly not making the 3 minute car journey from the Plaza to the village and as a result the businesses of the village are suffering. I find that most disappointing because with the right injection of funds, and the correct marketing, Moneygall village has everything you need to provide a nice, genuine visit.

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Overall, I was very disappointed with my visit to the Barack Obama Plaza. The only good point is that it is free to go to the visitor centre so at least I can’t complain that I wasted my money. I wouldn’t recommend a visit but if the ancestral house reopens, it may be worth a small detour.